Bloody human body parts scattered


Drunk, the Bacchae rushed to the victims, skinning them with their bare hands, ripping their limbs off, and searching their internal organs. Their hands sticky with blood, they behead the unfortunate one who fell under the blows of sacred madness.

The Bacchanalians indeed represent, in the ancient Dionysian religion, a wild, extreme phenomenon. It is about getting drunk, taking part in nature’s orgy, and fully engaging in delirium and all its consequences.

It is in delirium that the metamorphosis can take place. There are several kinds of them.

The one of Harmony and Cadmos is spectacular. Snake scales gradually cover the body. First the feet, then the legs, then the hips, then the sex metamorphoses into sizzling, hideous snakes. Finally, the whole rest of the body is affected by this monstrous mutation.

The Dionysian religion is not a quiet one. Its followers are not immune to some degree of terror, of psychological or physical shock. But it is this metamorphosis that is the essential moment, after the wine of intoxication and the sharing of the members of the sacrificed victim.

Philostratus the Elder describes it this way: « Here are the choirs of the Bacchae, the stones dripping with wine, the grapes distilling the nectar, the clods of earth all shining with the brilliance of milk, here is the ivy with its creeping stem, the snakes raising their heads, the thyrsuses and the trees from which honey escapes drop by drop.

Behold this fir tree lying on the ground, its fall is the work of women violently agitated by Dionysus; by shaking it, the Bacchae made it fall with Pentheus whom they take for a lion; behold, they tear their prey, the aunts detach their hands, the mother drags her son by the hair (…)

Harmony and Cadmos are present. Already the lower extremities, from the thighs, are transformed into snakes, everything disappears under the scales from the feet to the hips; the metamorphosis spreads to the upper parts. Harmony and Cadmos are struck with horror; they kiss each other, as if, by this embrace, they had to stop their bodies in its flight and save at least what they still have left of the human form. »

From the point of view of comparative anthropology, it is tempting to consider possible analogies with other religions.

There are undoubtedly in the depths of human memory some ancient and indelible memories of ancient sacrifices, that will not be easily wiped away.

We could see for instance in the Bacchanals a distant analogy or an obscure link with the sacrifice of Christ, and the consumption of his blood and flesh shared among the faithful.

Of course, the sacrifice of Christ as celebrated by the Church is not an evolved, intellectualized version of an eminently wilder, more barbaric sacrificial paradigm, once celebrated in the name of the God Dionysus, in memory of his bloody and burning birth.

But it is nevertheless possible to see in it elements of analogy, and anthropological similarities, if only in the consumption of Christ’s « flesh » and « blood » by his disciples, at the height of communion.

The human mind, from age to age, has shown itself capable of designing paradigms that open universes, that play on all values, not to abolish them, but to guarantee the possibility of their continuing metamorphosis.

The Dionysian religion once incarnated one of these paradigms, and secretly continues to do so, metaphorically speaking, in the unconscious depths of humankind.

It is tempting to reflect on how Dionysian ideas may be embodied today in the excesses of contemporary humanity, and how they continue their secret life in our blind and thoughtless »modernity ».

Bloody human body parts scattered all over political crime scenes (resulting from targeted assassinations or downed civilian airplanes) continue to be regularly presented – in prime time – to worldwide audiences…

Brain Neurochemistry and Mystic Visions


The birth of Dionysus is worth telling. There is a precise description of it in the Imagines of Philostratus the Elder.

“A cloud of fire, after enveloping the city of Thebes, tears on the palace of Cadmos where Zeus leads a happy life with Semele. Semele dies, and Dionysus is really born under the action of the flame.

We can see the erased image of Semele rising towards the sky, where the Muses will celebrate his arrival with songs. As for Dionysus, he starts from the mother’s womb, thus torn, and shining like a star, he makes the brilliance of the fire pale with his own. The flame opens, sketching around Dionysus the shape of a cave[which is covered with consecrated plants].

The propellers, the berries of ivy, the vines already strong, the stems of which we make the thyrsus cover their contours, and all this vegetation comes out of the ground so willingly, that it grows partly in the middle of the fire. And let us not be surprised that the earth lays on the flames like a crown of plants.”

Philostratus ignores the fact that Semele had wanted to see the face of Zeus, her lover, and that this was the cause of her death. Zeus, kept by a promise he had made to her to fulfill all her desires, was forced to show his face of light and fire when she made the request, knowing that by doing so he would kill her, in spite of himself.

But he didn’t want to let the child she was carrying die, which was also his. Zeus took Dionysus out of his mother’s womb and put him in the great light, in a cloud of fire. However, Dionysus himself was already a being of fire and light. Philostratus describes how Dionysus’ own fire « makes Zeus’ own fire pale ».

It should be noted above all that the divine fire of Dionysus does not consume the sacred bushes that envelop his body at the time of his birth.

In a different context, Moses sees a burning bush, which is not consumed either. The Bible gives little detail on how the bush behaves in flames.

Philostratus, on the other hand, is a little more precise: a « crown of plants » floats above the fire. The metaphor of the crown is reminiscent of an aura, a halo, or the laurels surrounding the hero’s head. Except Dionysus is not a hero, but a God.

The idea of plants burning without burning in a « fire » of divine origin is counter-intuitive.

It is possible that this idea is a hidden metaphor. The inner fire of some plants, such as Cannabis, or other psychotropic plants, is a kind of fire that affects the mind, burns it indeed, but does not (usually) consume it. This inner fire, caused by plants capable of inducing shamanic visions and even divine ecstasies, is one of the oldest ways to contemplate mysteries.

This is one of the most valuable lessons from the experiences reported by shamans in Asia, Africa, or America.

What explains the powerful affinity between psychotropic plants, human brain neurochemistry and these ecstatic, divine visions?

Why is brain chemistry capable of generating a ‘vision’ of God from psychotropic stimuli?

Why is the active ingredient of cannabis, THC (Δ9 – tetrahydrocannabinol), capable, by binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, of delivering man to ecstasy, and to the vision of the divine, under certain conditions?

New ways of investigating the brain should be able to be used to detect the brain regions activated during these visions.

There are two main categories of assumptions.

Either the psychotropic mechanism is entirely internal to the brain, depending only on neurobiological processes, which can get out of hand when they are somehow looped around themselves.

Either these neurobiological processes are in reality only a façade, more or less shaped throughout the evolution of the human brain. They hide or reveal, depending on the case, our direct perception of a world that is still mysterious, a parallel world, generally inaccessible to sensitivity and consciousness.

The neurochemical processes disinhibited by THC release the brain, and during ecstasy give it the opportunity to access a meta-world, usually veiled, but very real, existing independently of human consciousness.

In that assumption, the neurochemistry of cannabis does not then generate « visions » by itself; it is only a key that opens the consciousness to a world that is inaccessible, most of the time, to weak human capacities.